Sprinting Stops Age-Related Muscle Loss in Virtual Cyclists

By including max efforts in your training, you will avoid losing muscle mass and strength and decrease the negative performance effect of age-related muscle loss.

The Zommunique’ post entitled Strength Training is Essential for the Masters Cyclist highlighted the vital importance of resistance training to the aging athlete.  Age-related loss of muscle mass and strength is normal, but it doesn’t have to be accepted.

Sarcopenia is characterized by the slow and progressive loss of muscle mass that is associated with aging in the absence of any underlying disease or condition.

There is extensive research that supports the effectiveness of resistance training in improving cycling performance in older athletes.  Strength training is not the only way a masters cyclist can enhance their performance, however.

A Recent Study on the Benefits of Sprinting

In a recent study published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, the authors investigated the effectiveness of maximal power cycling, otherwise known as sprinting, on muscle mass, power, and cardiovascular function in individuals over 50.

In the study published in June of 2021, the researchers observed 39 untrained healthy adults ages 50 to 68 as they performed an eight-week training protocol.  For the study, participants completed a 15-minute training session consisting of 15 to 30 max-effort 4-second sprints, with 30 seconds of recovery, three times per week.

Before, during, and after the eight weeks, the lean body mass, peak oxygen consumption, thigh muscle volume, and intermuscular fat volume of each participant were recorded.  The beneficial effects of the sprint training protocol were significant.

black and white photo of cyclist

Further Study Provides Evidence

The researchers performed this study as a follow-up to similar research published in the journal Innovation in Aging in 2019.  The authors studied the effect of repeated short sprints on maximal power in a group of forty older adults.

 

During eight weeks, the participants performed a progressive protocol of 15 to 30 sprints, decreasing rest intervals from 56 to 26 seconds, three times per week. Maximal power was achieved after 4 seconds of sprinting and was measured before and after the 8-week regimen.

The researchers concluded that only ~2 minutes of sprinting per session increased maximal power by 10.5%.

As we get older, our muscle mass and strength naturally decrease as a function of normal aging. The cause of this progressive decline is explained in part by a selective loss of type II fast-twitch muscle fibers.

It is a widely held belief that maximal power sprinting enhances type II fast-twitch muscle fiber recruitment. By designing experiments studying the effect of sprint training on older individuals, the scientists prove the link between focused recruitment of type II fast-twitch muscle fibers and improvement in muscle mass and power.

For more helpful information on the different muscle fiber types and implications to the cyclist check out this post on The ZOM.

Conclusion: Implications for the Masters Virtual Cyclist

The importance of strength training to the aging athlete is paramount, but the performance of a focused resistance training program may not be realistic during the season. Time management is an issue, as are the performance and motivation limiting effects of riding with continual muscle soreness resulting from heavy squats or leg presses.

vintage photo. of cyclist

By including maximal sprint training in your training plan during the in-season, the masters cyclist will maintain or improve their muscle mass and power.  

 

Repeated max efforts on a stationary trainer eliminate the inherent safety risks associated with sprinting on the road.  

 

More importantly, consistent sprint training sessions will delay the normal muscle wasting loss of function that accompanies the passing of time.  No cyclist has time for that!  

What do you do?

Are you a masters athlete and do you include sprint training in your plan?  If yes, why and what is your experience?  If not, what is your reason?  Your fellow virtual cyclists want to know your opinion.

Bibliography

Allen JR, Satiroglu R, Vardarli E, Laico A, Wolfe A, Coyle E. INERTIAL LOAD SPRINT TRAINING IMPROVES NEUROMUSCULAR POWER IN OLDER ADULTS. Innov Aging. 2019;3(Suppl 1):S171. Published 2019 Nov 8. doi:10.1093/geroni/igz038.608

 

Allen JR, Satiroglu R, Fico B, Tanaka H, Vardarli E, Luci JJ, Coyle EF. Inertial Load Power Cycling Training Increases Muscle Mass and Aerobic Power in Older Adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2021 Jun 1;53(6):1188-1193. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000002588. PMID: 33433149.

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[…] this recent post suggests, cycling Sprint Training decreases normal age-related muscle loss in masters athletes. Focused strength training is the […]

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